Virgin Australia founder Sir Richard Branson on Wednesday visited the airfield that was home to the legendary Antonov AN-225 destroyed by Russia.
The six-engine behemoth — dubbed ‘Mriya’, or ‘Dream’ in Ukrainian — was the world’s largest cargo plane and a favourite of enthusiasts worldwide. When it first arrived in Australia in May 2016, Perth erected a dedicated viewing area for spotters to see it.
“Following an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, I travelled to Kyiv today to meet with the President, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and a group of Ukrainian business leaders,” wrote Sir Richard in a blog post.
“I also visited some of the sites of Russian attacks during the now more than 130 days since Putin’s appalling invasion began.
“My main purpose in going to Kyiv was to meet and listen to Ukrainians, to understand their fears and concerns and also to learn what business, in partnership with civil society and governments, can do to support Ukraine most effectively.
“My first site visit took me to a residential area hit by a Russian missile strike just a few days ago. Looking at the ruins of a burnt-out kindergarten, far away from any kind of target of strategic relevance, it is clear these kinds of attacks are not unintended and arbitrary. They are part of a deliberate strategy to spread fear and terror among Ukraine’s civilian population. I hope the Russian perpetrators of these shocking acts will be held to account.
“A little later, I visited Gostomel Airport, just a short drive north of Kyiv’s centre. The scene of intense fighting in the early days of the invasion, this airfield was home to the famed Antonov AN-225, the world’s largest transport plane and the pride of Ukrainian aviation.
“Affectionately nicknamed Mriya (Dream), this magnificent six-engine aircraft was destroyed in the battle for control of the airport, and all that remains is a burned-out wreck. But there were people hard at work trying to salvage it — they have already decided to rebuild.
“I hope that Mriya’s legacy will endure, and that the international community will find ways to help Ukraine rebuild not only this airfield, but bring Ukraine’s aerospace industry back to life.”
You can read the full post here.
While there are no detailed reports of exactly what happened to AN-225 as of yet, the Ukrainian defence ministry said at the time “it will be restored” at the expense of Russian authorities.
The defence ministry said it would cost over US$3 billion, and the project would take over five years.
“Russia has hit the Mriya as a symbol of Ukraine’s aviation capabilities … which holds records for transportation of biggest commercial cargo and longest and heaviest in the history of aviation monoloading, lifting capacity,” the statement said.
“Our task is to ensure that these costs are covered by the Russian Federation, which has caused intentional damage to Ukraine’s aviation and the air cargo sector.”
The jumbo aircraft was powered with six Ivchenko Progress D-18T turbofan engines and weighed about 285 tonnes when empty.
At the time of its debut in 1988, the AN-225 was 50 per cent larger than any other jet in the world and then remained the biggest cargo aircraft in operation.
From 1988 to 1991, it was primarily operated as the transporter for Buran-class orbiters for the Soviet space program.
Then, when obtained by Antonov Airlines, it became the workhorse for transporting extremely large cargo and was also an asset in rapidly providing supplies for disaster relief programs.
Production of a second AN-225 commenced in the late 1980s, but it was never completed.
Australian Aviation previously reported how Sir Richard admitted he thought his business empire would come “crashing down” during COVID.
In his first major interview since the pandemic, Branson told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that he questioned his whole career as his conglomerate of companies struggled.
“We were in the cruise business. In the airline business. In the fitness clubs business. In the hotels business,” he said.
“I thought I’d been quite smart and diversifying everything. But I had to sell 85 per cent of my shares in Virgin Galactic to keep everything on track.”